Bones found in Bodden Town could be tied to decades old mystery

Police dig up human remains in September 2017 from a house undergoing renovations in Bodden Town. Forensic examination of the bones showed that they had been in the ground for 75 years. - Photo: Jewel Levy

A Bodden Town man believes bones found by a member of the public in September last year could be those of the late Sarah Bodden, a woman from the district who disappeared in the 1940s.

The bones were discovered in Bodden Town during the renovation of a hurricane-damaged house. A forensic examination determined the bones had been in the ground for about 75 years.

Ms. Bodden went missing around 1943 or 1944, when she was in her early 50s, according to 79-year-old Neville McCoy. Her disappearance remains an unsolved mystery.

“For seven decades I wondered what happened to Sarah,” said Mr. McCoy. “If these bones are a female, I think I may finally have my answer.”

Police findings

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Forensic archaeologists and anthropologists in the U.S. examined the bones, which were sent from Cayman last year, and determined the remains had been in the ground for more than seven decades.

The examination did not find any obvious cause of death or injuries, police said in a statement. “Due to these factors, the bones are not subject to any further legal or medical investigation,” a Royal Cayman Islands Police Service spokesman said.

The RCIPS spokesman added that police enquiries “have been unable to determine who the remains may have been.” Forensic checks were unable to confirm the gender of the remains nor obtain DNA from them as the bones were extremely degraded, police said.

The search

Mr. McCoy believes Ms. Bodden may have been collecting firewood when she went missing.

He said it was standard practice for women in the district to collect firewood late in the evening to use for cooking. It was the only source of energy in those days and was used for cooking, ironing and smoking out mosquitoes. Ms. Bodden was last seen by her brother, the late Adler Bodden, the evening she left the family home, located opposite Thomas Russell Beach in Bodden Town, according to Mr. McCoy.

When Ms. Bodden did not return home by sunrise the next morning, her brother raised the alarm. A massive search was organized with every able-bodied man in the district. Even turkey vultures, known as “John Crow” birds, were flown in from Jamaica by the government to aid in the search. They eventually died from starvation, Mr. McCoy said.

Bodden Town was not densely populated in those days. Only 300 to 400 people lived in the district and everybody knew each other, according to Mr. McCoy.

For two weeks, from sunrise to sunset, people in the district searched the dense bush at the back of Ms. Bodden’s house.

“The bush back there was impenetrable and could not be accessed without machete and clearing equipment … no lady would have gone there looking for firewood,” he said.

Mr. McCoy, who was a little boy at the time, said no one thought of searching the beach and popular spots the women went to collect firewood.

Ms. Bodden’s straw basket, clothes, shoes and hat were never found.

Corine Rankine, also in her 70s, said she was a little girl when she heard about Ms. Bodden. “In those days, they never worried much about people [going] missing and it went just like that,” she said.

No one knew where Ms. Bodden went to find firewood that fateful evening, according to Mr. McCoy. The easiest and simplest place to get firewood was the seagrape trees on the beach, he said.

“Where they found the bone fragments was an abundance of firewood and most of the ladies visited that area,” Mr. McCoy said.

Also, there was a large seagrape tree in that area where the men of the community butchered cows and turtles, and people would go there to buy meat. Approximately 10 feet from where the bones were found last year, Mr. McCoy said, there was a little wooden thatch-roof house that was owned by his grandfather’s brother, Edwin Solomon. Coincidentally, that house was removed in 1944 to a distance of about 200 feet and relocated behind four “Joseph’s Coat” trees, hidden away from the public.

“Edwin and his wife Josephine died there in that little house,” Mr. McCoy said.

“I figured whatever happened to Sarah, happened right in that area where they found those bones. If they are female, they are 100 percent hers.”

“Even if we did find Sarah’s bones, we will never know the cause and manner of Sarah’s death,” he added.

Mr. McCoy said he knew Sarah because she was friends with his grandmother. When the woman sat and talked, he was always around. After leaving school each day, he searched for firewood with his grandmother. He also said his father helped in the search for Sarah. Just after that, he said, his father left Cayman and never returned.

“From what I can remember of Sarah, she didn’t converse too easily and was more of a loner. She was not friendly and sociable, and was thought of by members of the community as not having it all together,” he said.

“I don’t know of her having any enemies.”

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